Movies To Watch Before You Die: Sholay (1975)

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Assessment of Bollywood’s impact on the attitudes of masses shall be inept without mentioning this Blockbuster.

Released in 1975, Sholay had set a benchmark for every aspect of film making and acting. The impact was such that onscreen projection had become off-screen epitomes. And remains so four decades later.

Our initial understanding of the movie was Gabbar Singh’s Kitne Aadmi the? The stand-up comedians of the early-2000s centring their acts around the movie and mimicking characters was our initial source of enlightenment. Perhaps, they made Dharamendra’s Khoon pii jaunga and Basanti! Inn kutto ke saamne mat naachna and A K Hungal’s Itna sanaata kyu hai bhai? popular even before we knew the movie.

Back in the 2000s, it worked as a filler for Cinema channels on TV. Preceding the “World-television premiers” or placed as the “Dopahar/Shaam ki Blockbuster movie” of weekdays. This was our entry gate to witness the origin of the popular social exemplars and motivations of filmmaking.

Set in the village Ramgarh, Sholay is the story of two thieves Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) and Veeru (Dharamendra) hired by Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar) to free the village from the terror of Daku Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan). The storyline is as simple as it may get. However the power-packed performances, action, suspense, drama and comedy keep you on the edge of your seats.

The characters of the movie are distinct, each having a different colour. The effective placement of these distinct characters enabled the assimilation of parallel narratives to the storyline. The moment you start imagining the movie to be a hyper-bolt action flick, comes in Basanti (Hema Malini) tange waali: the ultimate chatterbox. It is with her begins Veeru’s droll and drama love story. On the contrary, Jai falls for a widow Radha (Jaya Bahaduri). The distinct romances are beautiful and lend shades to the alternate narratives.

Writer duo Salim-Javed have indeed scripted the distinct elements to supreme perfection. Perfectly timed comedy and drama have been complimented by brilliant performances. They never seem abrupt or overdone. For example, Jai’s reply to Basanti’s blabbering “Tumhara naam kya hai Basanti?” is epic. Or the scene where Radha puts off the lamps with Jai playing his mouth-organ in the backdrop gives was yesteryear’s ultimate romantic goal. What however stood out was Veeru’s suicide. Rejected Basanti’s hand, Veeru alarmed “suicide” scaring Basanti’s Mausi of Jail and “Chakki Piising and Pissing and Piising“. It shall be a sin to imagine replacements or alternates to these characters. Ask Ram Gopal Verma who ruined careers of several actors with his AAG (an “attempt to remake” Sholay).

Sholay’s popularity is a landmark to assess Bollywood’s influence on mankind. It ensured dacoity or villainy shall now be recognised with Gabbar Singh. Also, Jai-Veeru shall be the friendship emblem. It becomes evident from how Director David Dhawan names protagonists Govinda and Sanjay Dutt in Jodi No.1 (2001) as Jai and Veeru.  In an interview two years back, Dharamendra was asked if he is still friends with Jai living nearby, he replied “Ab wo peeta nahi hai toh main kya karu?

If Jai-Veeru were the friendship emblem, Kishore Kumar- Manna Day sung “Ye dosti hum nahi todhenge” was (or still is?) the friendship anthem. At the zenith of their careers, Composer R.D. Burman and Helen stole the show with the breath-taking Mehbooba. Pancham Da‘s unimaginable coarse voice and item-girl Helen’s awe-inspiring dance moves shall blow your senses. Collaborating after the success of Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu(1958) and Piya tu(1971), Mehbooba was a indeed breakthrough in Bollywood item-numbers.

Prior to its release, Bollywood trade pundits predicted Sholay to flop big time. However, it rubbished all such predictions, and was the first movie to run until its silver jubilee i.e, 25 years at Mumbai’s Minerva theatre! And what’s more the theatre’s employees called for a strike, aggrieved of the multiple screenings and repetitive dialogues. Perhaps, Director Ramesh Sippy’s faith in the writer duo Salim Javed overpowered his belief in the box office pundits. Not to forget, the duo had delivered the greatest blockbusters of the 70s, including Seeta aur Geeta (1972), Zanjeer (1973) and Yaadon ki Baraat (1973).

Sholay enabled cinematic dignity to the 70s era which largely focussed on doing mediocre stories with elaborate star casts. The popularity of the characters (till date) including Sambha (Mac Mohan) who had a single dialogue in the entire movie narrates the success of the digressed approach. Sholay is at its utter best in the climax. Jai tricking Veeru to elope with Basanti, shot by a bullet fighting dacoits to die in Veeru’s arms is heart breaking. Not to forget, Thakur fighting Gabbar with his spikes on. Indeed, a glorious Kahaani mein twist to compliment a glorious climax. Sholay isn’t about moments of brilliant acting, song or dance. But about assimilating simple nuances of romance, comedy and drama in a single action-centred storyboard.

Our obsession to Thakur, Gabbar, Jai-Veeru and Basanti shall last for a few more decades. For there is less probability for Bollywood to come over its obsession with sci-fi sequences, capital utilisation and storyline mediocrity. Till then, ye Sholay bujhenge nahi!

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